Sunday, May 29, 2011

Three Cities of Italy

Hello from Venice. We have been very busy the last couple of day. May 24th was our last day in Florence, and one of our busiest. In the morning we climbed to the top of the Duomo in Florence where everyone was awestruck by the view. Many people in the group stayed on top of the dome for an hour to take many photos and admire all the vistas. The climb to the cupola was followed by one last day of enjoying Florentine food. A majority of the group found their way over to Due Fratelini, an amazing sandwich shop. The store is a tiny posh sandwich shop where two brothers have taken upon themselves to deliver high quality fresh sandwiches to Italy. After a brief lunch and more exploring of the city we took a walking tour starting at Galleria dell'Academia. At the Galleria dell'Academia our tour guide, Monica, gave us a detailed background on art in the museum with special highlight on Michelangelo (The Master). Michelangelo was covered in great depth in preparation to see the David. The David was a phenomenal expression of art from the time of the Renaissance, representing democracy in Florence. Upon entering the room housing the David, the onlooker is entranced by the attention to detail of the human body. One of the most talked about features of the David among the group was the detail of the human hands were one could see the veins on the arm and the round powerful knuckles.

After seeing the David, we took a walking tour of the city, with the highlights of our tour including the Ponte Santa Trinity, the Ponte Vecchio and Dante's Cathedral. Monica pointed out that the Ponte Vecchio is seen as an eyesore to the people of Florence. When first walking on the bridge, many students did not even realize that it was a bridge because the bridge used to be inhabited by people when construction was completed. The bridge is now littered with stores selling Gold because Mussolini wanted to impress Hitler and highlight the bridge's importance when Hitler came to visit the city during World War II. When the Germans were fleeing Florence, the Germans blew out all of the bridges except for the Ponte Vecchio. Upon hearing the story and looking at the surrounding landscape, most of the students seem to agree that the bridge was an eyesore, but they saw the historical importance of the bridge since it was the only one that has survived through the centuries.

Dante's Church was a small church tucked away in the city of Florence, where it is believed to where Dante met the love of his life at the age of ten. However, the pair could never be together because their families hated each other. Dante was later banished from the city of Florence because his political party lost power. He never saw his love again, but keep her memory alive in some of his books. As a way to commemorate the tragedy of this love story, people can come to the church and write their love life problems and place them on a side altar. It is said that Dante's love will hear your prayers and bring a peaceful resolution to your love life.

The tour was topped off by the Ponte Santa Trinita, which most students recognized as the prettiest bridge in Florence. The bridge had an interesting restoration story. The bridge was one of the bridges blown up by the Germans during WWII. After the war the Florentine people searched the river for as much of the original materials as they could find to rebuild the bridge. The tour ended on a posh street with high-end boutiques; "fashionistas" were strutting their stuff up and down the street. Some students stayed to shop and some went straight back to the hotel to get ready for the evening. On the way back to the hotel a couple of students saw Polly D. and Vinni from the cast of The Jersey Shore, a popular program on MTV. The evening was spent with the students splitting up to enjoy one last evening in the city that captured the hearts of many as the highlight of the trip.

On May 25th, the group took the Eurostar Italia, the high-speed train, to Venice. The group was picked up by a private motor launch which took us to Academia pier and from there we walked to Hotel Belle Arti. Professor Ballarini then gave us a brief walking tour of the city, highlighting his favorite restaurants and taking us to Saint Mark's Square where the cathedrals and the Palace of the Doges are located. After the tour, we were given the rest of the day to explore the city and find some fine Venetian food to dine on.

On May 26th, the students were given a mechanics lecture by Dr. Ballarini. After the lecture the students were let loose to explore the city of Venice once again. Some students headed off to the beach while others went to tour St. Mark's Basilica, St. Mark's Museum and find place to take excellent pictures. Upon completing the daily activities, most students met up at the hotel before going out for dinner.
On May 27th, we enjoyed two morning lectures at the University of Venice. The first lecture was given by Dr. Forabosch, a professor at the University of Venice, about masonry structures, arches, vaults and domes. The second lecture was given by a Ph.D student, Lorenzo, who was studying at the University. He gave his lecture on the history of building materials in Italy and their progression ,and about the construction of the Calatrava Bridge. After completing the lectures, Lorenzo walked with us to see the Calatrava Bridge where Dr. Ballarini and Lorenzo gave detailed explanations about some of the structural and architectural details of the bridge. Most students seemed to love the aesthetics of the bridge, but upon walking across the bridge found themselves discomforted by the fact that the bridge shook. The general opinion of the group seemed to be that the bridge was a waste of money and should have been designed to be more stable, making the users of the bridge more comfortable by fulfilling expectations of not feeling like you would fall into the river. After walking across the bridge, the group split up and walked through the Jewish Ghetto of Venice to grab lunch along one of the canals. Students spent the rest of the day exploring the city of Venice and meeting up for dinner to eat some delicious seafood from the Mediterranean.

On May 28th, the group had another morning lecture with Dr. Ballarini on the mechanics of materials. After the lecture, many students joined professor Ballarini in exploring Murano and Verano. At Murano we saw master glass makers make all sorts of glass products and many students purchased glass souvenirs . The highlight of Burano was the aesthetic quality of the building and the island. Many student returned to Venice with Professor Ballarini to find a place to watch the European Final soccer match between Barcelona and Manchester United, while some others took a gondola ride.

On May 29th, we arrived in Verona, where we took a walking tour to get familiar with the city. After the walking tour, Dr. Ballarini took the group to tour an ancient Roman theater. At the theater, the group was able to take in the breathtaking views of the city of Verona. Many people were entranced by the view of the river, the red roof tops of the city and the mountains in the background. After touring the theater, many students got lunch and explored the city.